While China is a beacon of economic and material progress, it is also condemned as a smog-ridden sweatshop. After all, China has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, and with hundreds of new coal-fired power stations planned, things seem unlikely to get better. It is claimed that pollution makes living in Beijing equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes each day. Despite frantic efforts to clean the city up in time for the Olympics in August, athletes still doubt the air will be fit to breathe. The world’s fastest marathon runner, for one, has threatened to drop out of the race because of pollution.
Can China solve these problems? Will its ambition in technical innovations help speed up solutions, or is the answer to ensure China fulfils its international obligations by curbing its hunger for energy and growth? Is there a whiff of hypocrisy when comfortable Western societies that were built on Industrial Revolutions moan about the birth pangs of Oriental industrialisation? Arguably, ‘Beijing’s smog’ has become a fearful metaphor for China’s economic development more generally. Is the rhetoric of environmentalism simply repackaging an old moral panic about the ‘Yellow Peril’?
visiting professor, London South Bank University
journalist and author, Ferraris for All: in defence of economic progress and Cowardly Capitalism
associate fellow, Energy, Environment and Development Programme, Chatham House; sustainability advisor.
|Dr Yiyi Lu
research fellow, China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham; author, Non-governmental Organisations in China: The Rise of Dependent Autonomy; co-editor, Politics of Modern China: Critical Issues.
associate fellow, Institute of Ideas
The possibility that China could become a fully industrialised and urbanised society, with living standards akin to our own, has become the ultimate environmentalist nightmare.Claire Fox, The Telegraph, 10 July 2008
China is not a country where ordinary people have much chance to influence government, and being an activist can be risky.Mukul Devichand, BBC News, 13 April 2008
As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly ExtremesJoseph Kahn and Jim Yardley, The New York Times, 26 August 2007